English | Middle English Literature
L613 | 28056 | Ingham

L613  28056  INGHAM (#1)
Middle English Literature

11:15a – 12:30p TR


Meets with R630 Historical Studies (C. Furey)

Recent ethical analyses of cultural and religious difference
emphasize the limits such difference poses to our knowledge
about “the other,” and worry over how we might best acknowledge and
respect the differences within and among us. Premodern texts might
contribute to this project, particularly given both medieval
literature’s persistent interest in ethnic and religious otherness,
and the emphasis in medieval religion on the relationships across
the differences of divine and human, orthodox and heretic,
Christian, Jew, and Muslim.  Yet if illuminating processes of
othering has become something of a methodology in itself, this
method can tend to perpetuate the very binaries it interrogates. In
this course we will consider premodern accounts of religious
difference, and we will avoid this methodological trap by taking our
lead from recent work by Slavoj Zizek, Eric Santner, and Kenneth
Reinhard focusing on the category of the neighbor. Uniquely situated
between friend and enemy, and long linked to the “golden rule” of
Christian ethics (to love your neighbor as you do yourself), the
neighbor is not easily aligned with either sameness or otherness.
Given the complexity of medieval definitions of difference (where,
for example, Islam was as frequently understood as a heresy of
Christianity as an enemy to it), this category might prove
particularly apt and thus useful for us.

We will investigate three genres of medieval literature: romance,
hagiography, and mysticism. Medieval romance has recently been
linked to horrifyingly racist fantasies associated with the period
of the Crusades. And yet, a genre of magical transformations,
romance also regularly performs, as Fredric Jameson has argued, the
startling revelation of the enemy as the friend. Stories of the
lives of Saints celebrate extraordinary feats of sanctity, and yet
also, and increasingly, present saints as ordinary people to be
emulated, as neighbors rather than distant heroes. And mystic texts,
generated by the gap between human and divine, nonetheless regularly
posit the dramatic intimacy of lover and beloved. This course,
taught jointly by a scholar of premodern Christianity and a
specialist in medieval literature, will pursue the following
questions: what does the category of neighbor signify in medieval
Europe? What complications—even contradictions—emerge in medieval
discourses of ethnicity, holiness, and romance? How do romance,
hagiography, and mysticism encode, resolve, or otherwise manage
those contradictions? How does the mix of religion and romance
complicate the question of identity and union? What are the ethical
implications of these medieval imaginaries?  (This class will take
an interdisciplinary approach, and will include graduate students
and faculty in both English Literature and in Religion.)

While some of the texts examined in the course will be in Middle
English, no previous familiarity with the language is expected or